By on June 16, 2008

us-ethanol-production550.jpgWe've heard a lot about U.S. corn-based ethanol production lately, what with E85 boosters saying it ain't got nothin' to do with rising food prices. In search of some reliable stats on this issue, TTAC's opened its wallet and bought some hard facts to fuel the debate. Industrialinfo.com [sub or PPV] reveals that "the United States now has 156 operational ethanol plants capable of producing a whopping 8.8 billion gallons of the renewable fuel. With an average of 2.6 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn, that translates to more than 3.4 billion bushels of corn going toward fuel production. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released numbers that estimate the 2008 corn crop would be about 11.7 billion bushels, meaning that about 24% of the crop will go straight toward ethanol production." I'm not sure who did their math, but when I divide 8.8b gallons by 2.6 gallons/bushel, I get almost 3.4b bushels, which equates to about 29% of the crop. Either way, that's a lot of Fritos. And just in case you want to know whose Senators are behind the .51 per gallon federal subsidies for the corn go-juice, check out this handy little chart. Question: does America actually consume all this ethanol? Hell no. Ethanol Producer Magazine reckons we burned 414k barrels of E85 per day in '07. Round that up to 500k for increased E85 use, and that's 182,500,000 barrels, or 7.6b gallons, per year. I make that 1.2b gallons worth of E85 overproduction, so far. Somebody add some subsidies, quick!

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25 Comments on “E85 Boondoggle of the Day: Ethanol Now Accounts for 24% of U.S. Corn Crop...”


  • avatar
    dwford

    Isn’t that what Congress wanted? It never occurred to them that if you remove a quarter of the corn production from the food marketplace, food prices would rise. Idiots.

  • avatar
    thalter

    Thanks for doing the research on this, Robert. I don’t know why the mainstream media is ignoring this foodoline scam.

  • avatar
    detroit1701

    This may not be a terrible thing in the long-term. Ok, so the U.S. is pushing ethanol to partly replace oil dependence. The first generation solution is coming from corn. However, simply using ethanol will prepare us for the next generation solution — so when a company comes along and markets a lower-cost, and less environmentally-devastating method of production, the market will embrace it.

  • avatar
    miked

    I had a great experience a couple of months ago. I was judging for the local science fair and one of the girls there made ethanol out of corn (I’m from Boulder, the non-California capitol of the hippies so the teacher was touting the benefits of ethanol) As the girl was telling me what she did, she told me that she didn’t understand what why, but it took a lot of corn and a lot of her time to make a glass full of ethanol. She was really conflicted because she wanted to question the authority, but really wasn’t old enough to realize that the authority was wrong. I told her all the problems with ethanol and she was very receptive. But I came away with a good feeling, that a simple science experiment of actually making the ethanol (moonshine), made someone realize that it’s a bad plan.

  • avatar
    afuller

    But is that corn only used for fuel production? From what I’ve read the corn used for ethanol production is feed corn for animals. In addition to the 2.6 gallons of ethanol made from the starch of the corn kernel in one bushel of corn we get:

    11.4 lb of gluten feed
    3 pounds of gluten meal
    1.6 pounds of corn oil

    So let’s not forget that there is more that comes from a bushel of ethanol producing corn than just ethanol, food is also produced at the same time.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    And just in time: the floods in the Midwest are impacting corn prices.

  • avatar
    menno

    Don’t forget that all over the country, various states are requiring 10% ethanol (E10) in every gallon of gasoline sold. States like Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, California (I used to have a map of the actual states which require E10 be sold in lieu of gasoline – despite the fact that even as late as the 1998 OR LATER some car owner manuals specified that E10 should NOT BE USED).

    Then not forgetting that much of the ethanol is mixed in gasoline for “reformulated fuels” (sometimes concentrations of ethanol under 10%) for areas mandated by the Federal EPA, such as Chicago.

    Meanwhile, food prices continue to climb. Pretty dumb (understatement alert!)

    Especially given the FACT that in EVERY car I’ve tried E10 (“gasohol”) in since 1979, my MPG has suffered so much that it essentially meant the ethanol was totally wasted, or worse. Which no doubt, has caused oil imports to INCREASE.

    We truly do need a new set of leaders in Washington. Perhaps we could get some who are not total imbeciles next time… but then you know what Albert Einstein said?

    Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is one definition of insanity.

    So yeah, let’s all vote for DEMOCRATS and REPUBLICANS and see what we get!!! Dumb.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    What corn crop? You folks catch the news from Iowa lately?

  • avatar

    This makes me irate, to put it lightly.

  • avatar
    RayH

    But is that corn only used for fuel production? From what I’ve read the corn used for ethanol production is feed corn for animals.
    I have a semi-agricultural background and living, my understanding is a lot of man-made extractions from feed corn go into regular foods, most notably, high fructose corn syrup.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    It never occurred to them that if you remove a quarter of the corn production from the food marketplace, food prices would rise.

    This is not an issue. Corn production has been increasing dramatically in the US. If you have a look at the Department of Agriculture website, you can see that US corn production during 2007-8 was 46% higher than it had been five years earlier. There is plenty of corn to go around.

    At the moment, we are seeing a worldwide leap in the price of all types of commodities. Just as speculators have jumped into oil futures, so they have with corn. Don’t worry, this will crash, too, and we’ll have plenty more obesity-inducing high-fructose corn syrup for everyone.

    What is probably helping to distort the market locally (and one reason that speculators are excited about an otherwise boring crop such as corn) are biofuel subsidies.

    In the long run, they should result in lower prices as they help to fund the creation of the biofuel infrastructure that is coming online. But in the short run, they permit fuel producers to pay higher prices for crops and still turn a profit, so they are less sensitive to paying higher prices when they’ll make up for it through the subsidy.

    Especially given the FACT that in EVERY car I’ve tried E10 (”gasohol”) in since 1979, my MPG has suffered so much that it essentially meant the ethanol was totally wasted, or worse. Which no doubt, has caused oil imports to INCREASE.

    US oil imports peaked in 2005, and have fallen 2% since then. E85 has probably helped slightly in contributing to that reduction, although most of it is coming from vehicle downsizing, the economic slowdown, and increasing US production. (Yes, US oil production is actually increasing.)

  • avatar
    dhanson865

    “check out this handy little chart”

    Which chart? Just skimming the article it isn’t apparent which link that sentence refers to.

  • avatar
    Kevin

    Well not to defend Ethanol but it’s easy to take the contrary side of any Ethanol opinions.

    Round that up to 500k for increased E85 use, and that’s 182,500,000 barrels, or 7.6b gallons, per year. I make that 1.2b gallons worth of E85 overproduction, so far.

    Ethanol production for calendar year 2007 was lower than ethanol capacity TODAY for two dead-obvious basic reasons: 1) no industry operates at 100% capacity …. 80% to 85% is utterly typical and 2) suppliers have been rapidly building capacity and bring new plants online, which means capacity right NOW is substantial higher than capacity was in January of 2007. That says nothing about demand or overcapacity.

  • avatar
    menno

    Perhaps, Psych101, I should been more direct and to the point and stated that if when using E10, you get (let’s try to average out all the cars I’ve tried it in) 11.4% fewer MPG’s, then it’s obviously that CRUDE OIL USAGE has actually increased, and that’s not even taking into account the gallons of crude oil used (wasted) to make the **** ethanol in the first place, not to mention the hidden costs of the growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico (excessive use of fertilizers to over-produce corn directly attributable to increased corn production) and huge amounts of ground water used to produce ethanol (exacerbating the dwindling midwestern underground water aquafer). Before anyone comments, yeah, I know that right now there’s a lot of water in the midwest-trouble is, it’s up ON / OVER the crops not down in the earth for later use, and is likely to drain off to the Gulf of Mexico (eventually, anyway).

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Ethanol and other biofuels are energy positive, when the food byproducts are taken into account. So no, it is incorrect to say that ethanol production results in more crude being used, when you look at the entire picture.

    What would result in reduced usage of crude oil would be to, well, use less of it. If you want to reduce crude oil consumption, then drive the most efficient vehicle possible, and drive it as little as possible.

  • avatar
    menno

    Well said Pch101 “What would result in reduced usage of crude oil would be to, well, use less of it. If you want to reduce crude oil consumption, then drive the most efficient vehicle possible, and drive it as little as possible.”

    I’m on our 2nd Prius. I carpool with my wife 95% of the time. We combine trips.

    And when I drive the Prius on E10 (10% ethanol) and only get 48 mpg instead of driving on pure gasoline and get 54 mpg, it really truly pisses me off!!!!

    Using 12.5% more fuel when 10% of said fuel is ethanol means I’m not only entirely wasting the damn ethanol by running it through the car, but I’m also using 2.5% MORE GASOLINE

    And, now in my town / area, there is but ONE fuel company which apparently still sells pure gasoline (and it varies according to where you are – assuming you aren’t in an area where E10 is mandated).

    So for me, BP will soon get all of my biz (just as soon as I run out the gift card I have on Marathon, which had pure gasoline until about 3 weeks ago).

  • avatar
    menno

    Sorry for the repost, but I can’t edit again. Forgot to say that now that I have ONE gas station (company) – BP – in my particular area which is the only place to buy pure gasoline, I’ll be switching over to them entirely just as quickly as the gift card for Marathon is used up. Marathon had also been selling pure gasoline until about 3 weeks ago.

    And yes, the MPG differences are real.

    Let’s face it – a car designed for gasoline is being mis-fuelled when it is force-fed 10% ethanol.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    A 10% or greater decrease in gas mileage has been my experience as well using oxygenated fuels (including MTBE laced fuels) versus the non-oxygenated variety. This is over 10,000+ miles of driving here in the western US. Most recently, I experienced a 20% decrease using E10 gasoline (~300 miles of driving) versus non-E10 gasoline (~550 miles of driving) bought at two different stations in Idaho Falls, Idaho. I’d probably be safe in assuming that the gas purchased in Lakeview, OR; Boise, ID; Caldwell, ID; and Mt. Home, ID, was also all E10 fuel and it also returned approximately 20% less mpg than the two fill-ups in Idaho Falls with non-E10 gasoline.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    Alternate headline: “Ethanol Now Accounts for 24% of U.S. Corn Crop while only displacing 6% of gasoline usage.”

  • avatar

    Hey, Menno. You’re supposed to do your bit for agricultural subsidies, you know? I spy a distinctly defeatist tone to your frustration over lower performance with Ethanol.
    Remember, growing fuel is just as smart as concrete feathers!

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Doesn’t most of the ethanol produced in the US end up being blended into “normal” fuels at around a 10% rate as an oxygenate and octane booster rather than ending up in E85?

  • avatar
    tulsa_97sr5

    @Menno and Lumbergh21

    …so you are saying you are the same/better off with 9 gallons of E0 than 10gal of E10? That is a little tough for me to believe. Not saying it isn’t true, just asking to make sure I understand.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    And yes, the MPG differences are real.

    The loss in fuel economy with E10 should be about 3.5%. You’d have to rewrite a few scientific laws in order for your results to vary substantially from that.

  • avatar
    NBK-Boston

    menno

    48 mpg [on E10] instead of driving on pure gasoline and get[ing] 54 mpg

    Taking your figures at face value (which is hard to do considering your tests were not under controlled conditions, or alternatively were not over such a large sample of vehicles and real-world conditions as to smooth over daily or weekly variations), your drop is still less than the 12.5% that you calculate. This is a simple case of dividing the difference into the smaller number instead of the larger one, which would have been more appropriate.

    Consider: Nine gallons of “good” fuel that yields 54 mpg will get you 486 mi of range. Ten gallons of “bad” fuel (which is the same as nine gallons of good fuel plus one gallon of bad additive) that yields 48 mpg will get you 480 mi of range — almost the same. It’s as if the ethanol contributed nothing, not that it somehow robbed the gasoline of its motive force too.

    Basically, some real-world fleet-derived data would settle the question, but one would want details from a fairly large corporate fleet (50 or 100 cars, at least) run over a whole year, if not two, to get a reliable result. Alternatively, the EPA or Consumer Reports or someone could obtain quantities of different fuels, one guaranteed to be pure, another E10, etc., and run a half dozen different cars through the standard EPA test cycles, under controlled conditions, to get a sense of how different makes and models react to the stuff.

    Anecdotes and testimonials don’t settle the matter in my book, especially when the basic physics suggests the results should be the other way. Such stories are enough to prick my interest, and may justify a day of testing or number crunching, but don’t justify firm conclusions.

  • avatar
    97escort

    Hopefully, someday ethanol will account for nearly 100% of the corn crop. Why? Because feeding corn to animals is a waste of energy.

    Most people nowadays spend way more on gas than on food. At least I do. Why then should we care if food prices rise if gas prices can be held down a little by ethanol? True we will have to switch from corn fed hogs to grass fed cattle, but is that so bad?

    High fructose corn syrup is dangerous stuff especially for diabetics like myself. Who needs it?

    Furthermore corn exports should be stopped since the energy in a bushel of corn is not appropriately priced. I burn corn in my corn stove for winter heat. It is worth $11/bu. compared to LP but sells for only $7 even after the latest run up. When corn is exported the lost energy must be replaced by imported oil at a higher price.

    If you think gas prices are high now, just wait until the ethanol plants shut down. We should be planning for a very high percentage, even 100%, of corn bushels going to ethanol if we want to keep the American car going.


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